Groundviews

The President, prisons and a question of justice

Sri Lanka’s new President Maithripala Sirisena greets his supporters as he arrives to address the nation outside the Temple of Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka, Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015. Sirisena, a longtime political inside, and an ally of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa until just a few weeks ago, won the Thursday election by capitalizing on Rajapaksa's unpopularity among this island nation’s ethnic and religious minorities, as well as grumbling among the Sinhalese majority about his family’s growing power. Sri Lanka's new government will investigate an alleged attempt by Rajapaksa to stage a coup to try to stay in power when results showed he was losing last week's election, a spokesman for the country's new leader said Sunday. (AP Photo/Sanka Gayashan)

AP Photo/Sanka Gayashan, via South China Morning Post

President Maithripala Sirisena, in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Lankadeepa, translated into English and published in the Daily Mirror today, noted the following.

Question: In your statement you referred to the detention of officers of the intelligence unit. There are widespread allegations that the intelligence unit would become weaker by detaining these officials…

Answer: That is the reason I spoke on all these matters. If someone is taken in for questioning, whether it is one week, one month, six months or one year, there are certain fundamental rights guaranteed to these people by our Constitution and international conventions.

These officers had been in detention for 17 months now and such a long period in remand custody is not something trivial in nature. If the authorities cannot take a decision during such period of time, it shows a weakness on their part.

Justice should be meted out equally to everybody. If someone had committed an offence, he should be brought before Courts and action filed. Simply detaining them in remand prison creates a negative picture not only locally, but internationally as well.

As we noted on Twitter in the morning,

To substantiate our tweet and in collaboration with the Social Indicator Unit of Centre for Policy Alternatives (the institutional anchor of Groundviews), we present an infographic that puts the President’s remarks into perspective. The data is from the Prisons Department itself.

Given the statistics above, ask President Sirisena why is he cherry-picking those who deserve justice? If the President considers 17 months in detention non-trivial (and we agree!), ask him and this government what they think of the hundreds of others who have been incarcerated for much longer? Who speaks for them? Ask the President and this government whether an overt interest in fundamental rights only applies to members of military intelligence and the armed forces?